Stranger in a strange land: Inkless hockey

Understand here that I may actually know less about hockey than Angelo Persichilli does about national politics. Today’s USA-Switzerland game was my second trip inside a hockey arena in two months, and also my second in 30 years. (I have now already seen more hockey and more ballet in 2010, in person, than in the entire period from 1980 to 2009. The two endeavours are eerily similar. Basically I can’t do either.)

(The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada brought their gold-medal game to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre the other night as part of Vancouver’s Cultural Olympiad, dancing together on an extended piece that combined Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with John Adams’ Fearful Symmetries. I am reminded that dancers don’t worry too much whether the music they’re dancing to makes any sense as a musical program. But I digress.)

So if you want “insights” from somebody who “actually understands hockey,” go read Colleague Gillis elsewhere. But one point I try to make to my friends when I drag them to concerts is that the opinions they have about the music are probably right, because bad music and good music don’t sound the same, and anyone paying attention can tell the difference.

Anyway. The Swiss hockey men actually gave the American hockey men a decent run for their money until the second period. The Americans, who towered over their Euro-scale opponents, seemed in a hurry to make something happen in the first minutes. They were chippy, nervous, eager to shovel the puck up the ice and figure out the rest later. And yet it was the Swiss who got their first shot on goal in the first minute. Without being particularly elegant, the Swiss had some skill defusing U.S. the U.S. offense.

The whole thing was about 40 times more impressive than the Sens were in regular-league play a couple of months ago. I dunno. Seems to me if you were going to play hockey for a living you’d want to be good at it.

Anyway, for me the highlight was a trip down into the bowels of the Canada Hockey Place to scrum the hockey men, none of whom I had ever heard of. It was actually easier to get at the athletes and have a civil conversation with them then it is to get at MPs after Question Period. I had a nice chat about this with the Globe‘s Roy MacGregor, who probably has more experience in both settings than any journalist.

(One time Roy and I were in Quebec City covering the Carnaval de Québec for the National Post. He called me in my hotel room on a Sunday night and said, “Uh, what do you think about this Carnaval thing?” And I said, not much going on. And he said, “Exactly! There’s nothing going on.” We paused to consider the import of this revelation. Roy asked: “Should we tell somebody?” We decided to keep it our little secret. Coverage of the Carnaval that week was sparse. But I digress.)

Anyway, next we all filed into a press-conference room where the U.S. and Swiss coaches gave a joint news availability. It was a bit like UK elections, where they make all the candidates in a given riding stand together on the same stage and then announce how many votes they all got. In other words, it was a little cruel. I liked it.

Ron Wilson, the U.S. coach, confirmed my impression that even though his charges were physically enormous, fast, eager and far more experienced at the highest competitive levels than the Swiss, they’re not a better team yet. The U.S. team has had all of a half hour’s practice time to gel after being thrown together from a bunch of NHL and assorted other teams, Wilson said. The Swiss have, in many cases, played together for years. “We’re a chemistry experiment,” Wilson said. “It’s gonna take us some time.” Them and me both.

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